60. Carrie Cort: Adopting a sustainable lifestyle

Sue Stockdale talks to Carrie Cort, founder of Sussex Green Living about the action she has taken to inspire others in her community to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.  Carrie explains some of the approaches she has taken to do this, including retrofitting a 1974 milk float, organising a pop-up environmental festival using a six-ton lorry powered with recycled cooking oil, and launching a monthly repair café.

Carrie Cort describes herself as a passionate and optimistically stubborn environmentalist. In 2011 with a 4-year-old son and growing concern for his future, worsening global warming and little time to achieve zero emissions, she decided to act and launched the charity, Sussex Green Living on 22nd April 2012, Earth Day. Her idea was to develop a network of people working together to create a more sustainable world. To educate herself, Carrie completed waste prevention training in 2012 and climate change training in 2016 delivered by the former US Vice President Al Gore and leading climate change scientists.

Find out more about Carrie Cort at the website: www.sussexgreenliving.co.uk

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Carrie Cort Quotes 

‘I realised that I could either sit back and worry about my son and future generations, all those animals, and everybody else or I could use the skills that I’d got.

‘I describe myself as a mum on a mission.’

‘I say to adults and children is when you buy anything – think, do I need it? And if I don’t need it then great, brilliant. Or if I do need it, could I buy it better? Could I buy it second hand? Could I buy it pre-loved from someone down the road?’ 

‘We’ve actually retrofitted a 1974 milk float, which we call our inspiration eco station.’ 

‘We have to inspire people into change and not frighten them into change.’ 

‘We use environmental music to help to show people, what a bright new future can look like, because unless they can visualize it, they’re not going to be able to travel the journey to get there.’ 

‘It’s finding people that inspire you to find solutions and then sharing those solutions.’

Carrie Cort Transcription

Sue: Welcome to the podcast Carrie.

Carrie: Thanks very much, Sue, delighted to be here.

Sue: Now you were recommended by one of our previous guests. Karen Espley, who’d been on episode 40 about the Accidental Adventurer. I’m wondering, how do you know her?

Carrie: I know Karen as she approached me in about 2018 and volunteered for our Horsham repair cafe. And she’s just absolutely amazing. She’s now leading our Horsham repair cafe, which is one of our outreach activities.

Sue: Well, that really brings us wonderfully into finding more about what your background is. What is the Horsham repair cafe and what is Sussex Green Living, which I think is the umbrella for everything?

Carrie: Yeah, it is. So, Sussex Green Living is a charity. I founded in 2012 and we provide environmental education through online and in person. Initiatives in about 14 villages within our district. Yeah mainly working in west Sussex, but it’s environmental education too.

Sue: I’m wondering what, what motivated you to start up a charity?

Carrie: When I came up with the idea, I was a director of a video communications company. A family run business had been running with my brother for about 15 years. And at that point I was a mature mum with a four-year-old son. And with motherhood came much greater awareness about how we’re trashing the planet. Always been an environmentalist, always loved nature and being outside. But I watched two films Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth and another film, Age of the Stupid and listened to someone who’s now one of my great friends speak about the environment and they took me from depression to action. And that’s when Sussex Green Living was born.

Sue: I find people can sometimes not get to that point of action, even a little bit inspired. And of course, climate change is a global issue that we’re hearing very much a lot about how did you take those first tentative steps into taking action yourself?

Carrie: Well, I realized that I could either sit back and worry about my son and future generations and all those animals, and everybody else or I could use the skills that I’d got , and the idea was to create a network of families and individuals on a journey, sharing our knowledge and supporting and inspiring each other. So I describe myself as a mom on a mission and that’s how it started.

Sue: How did you get started then?

Carrie: So initially my night job was to build a website and to build the social media force, for Sussex Green Living, this network and to use the social media. So that’s what I did initially. And then in the early days, just before we launched, I trained as a West Sussex County Council waste prevention advisor, a voluntary course, to learn about waste and waste management and to help to share the knowledge about actually how we can help the environment through recycling. And then having done that training, I launched Sussex green living on earth day, 2012.

Sue: And what does it involve? You talked about the repair cafe. What are all the different initiatives that you’re doing?

Carrie: Yeah. So in the early days it was it was me giving talks and working in children’s groups and, and the social media communications And then I left the family business and went full time. Thereafter, lots of work in schools, lots of talks to our adult groups with our Greenstand popping up at shows and events, and then. Gradually people joined us. I mean, certainly in the social media that joined us, but volunteers, people started stepping forward and saying, oh, I want to help love what you’re doing. and want to help. And really 2017, when we launched the Horsham repair cafe and it was a visible once a month event, that’s when our volunteer base really, really expanded because it was there every single month. And it was like a magnet to people that perhaps were depressed about climate change, wanted to do something about it, whether it was personally bringing something along to be repaired or coming along to talk to us, it was much more and always has been much more than a repair cafe. And there’s lots of other initiative. Which I could ramble on for hours about that we that we’re running now as well.

Sue: So for the listener that doesn’t have an idea of what a repair cafe is, what actually happens there?

Carrie: So a repair cafe is a community event that pops up usually once a month, sometimes more and people book usually to bring along an item at a small household. Electrical item, mechanical item, clothing, textiles and our wonderful volunteers try and repair it. But the whole concept of it is that people sit there with them and they learn what is wrong, whether it is repairable and perhaps next time they might be able to repair it for themselves. So yeah. many repair cafes have got other strands. Prior to the current energy crisis, we offered energy switching to, we offer personal hygiene and household cleaning, product bottle, refills, people bring the bottle, we fill them up. So our repair cafe is much more than just repairs, it’s made up of these amazing, incredible volunteers like Karen. And it’s just a really inspiring community to be part of.

Sue: So already, I’m getting a sense of education and communication are two important parts of spreading this message of green.

Carrie: Yep. Absolutely. I mean, that is our objective as a charity is education. So it’s not just education in schools. Typically, our work is in about 65 schools a year it’s education of, of adults as well, which is absolutely crucial and sharing inspiring solutions.

Sue: And what do you think it makes it easier for people to adopt a green way of living? Because we do, we do hear about the importance of taking care of. All around in the media these days. And yet I think sometimes people don’t know where to start. What do you think can help them?

Carrie: I think to be part of a group, so they don’t feel on their own too. Now we’re lucky. There are all sorts of zoom events that you can join where you feel part of you don’t feel alone. So that’s really, really important. And just, just take one step at a time, one at a time to learn. And then the most important thing is to go away and put into practice because unless we put into practice, we won’t change our behavior.

It’s very hard to change our behavior, but just to take it one step at a time one of the things we’re launching the Horsham repair coffee is now part of the Sussex green hub, which is a much bigger entity, and as part of that, we’re offering as from this month, this weekend a carbon watchers clinic where people can come along and come back each month, like weight Watchers and they come along and they sit down and they talk to us about their lifestyles. And then when we are nonjudgmental, we can say, well, how about trying this? And then giving them some action to go away, put into practice, then come back the following month and let’s see how. Okay, well, good. You’ve done it or no, you haven’t. Nevermind. You know, try or perhaps try this I know lots of people think or what difference can I make? But if we all make small steps forward, collectively, we make a big, big deal.

Sue: So it’s about inspiration and action. What are some of the actions that you take Carrie in your everyday life that help you to keep on the track living.

Carrie: Oh, I’m constantly obsessed and sometimes I wish I could live a normal life. I’m not sure what that is though. Literally from day to day, If my husband or son leave the lights on Sue, I’m going to fine you and I’m gonna start a tally chart. so there has to be a policemen within the household. It is hard to change behavior, but to observe everything that we’re actually doing and think, well, could I do it differently? Could I do it better? And one thing I say to adults and children is if all you ever buy anything or acceptance think, think, do I need it? And if I don’t need it then great, brilliant. Or if I do need it, could I buy it better? Could I buy it second hand? Could I buy it? Pre-lab from someone down the road, rather than coming all the way from China. And if I do need it, where has it come from? What is it made of and where will it go? Wouldn’t that those are the sorts of constant questions I ask myself and I encourage others.

Sue: so it’s great. You’ve given us almost like a little checklist there too, to be reflecting on ourselves in terms of questions and thinking, and not just taking habitual behavior that we’ve had in the past.

Carrie: Yeah.

Sue: And I’m imagining that having set up Sussex Green Living and know you’re well into the progress and moving forward with it, it’s not been necessarily plain sailing all the way. I want to beat some of the challenges that you’ve encountered and how have you got round them?

Carrie: Well, in the early days finding time, it was my night job. I always said it was my corporate social responsibility initiative, but it didn’t happen at work because we were quite a small company. So, it’s finding time and it’s finding time to shop differently. You know, not just to go to one great big supermarket and buy everything to try and think actually, can I buy better? So personally, Those are some of the challenges now, actually it’s managing all the volunteers. So one of the things we’ve done this year is we’ve actually bought over the winter and we’ve actually retrofitted and a 1974 milk float, which we call our inspiration eco station. So it’s a mobile stand that with inspiring colorful messages and displays that goes out to shows and events.

And then when we go, we sign people up to our newsletter and people are constantly saying, I want to volunteer. I want to help. What can I do? And, managing the volunteers we’ve already got, which is probably some of the money for an hour here, an hour there, but I don’t know, 120 of them and managing them. It’s hard enough, but now we’re taking the float out. We’ve been to 20 odd events this year. We’ve got loads, more people that want to help. So actually managing the volunteers and also trying to get some bigger grants. So we’re not spending all our time applying for grants and writing reports, monitoring reports at the end of the grant period. So rather than doing all that paperwork, actually, we want to be out there talking to the people, working with the people rather than doing all this paperwork. So those are the two greatest challenges.

Sue: So it sounds like you, your role. I feel like within the organization has changed quite dramatically from when it started.

Carrie: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. So in the early days it was me and it was my family, my very, very supportive family, my mum, my son, my husband and and then gradually it grew. I am in a sort of a management role and getting sucked back into sitting behind my computer for too much time for my liking. We’ve got volunteers in 16 villages within Horsham district who manage single use plastic recycling, and run that recycling scheme for their villages. And it comes through Sussex Green Living. We recycle it and raise money and they are becoming like climate champions in the villages. And we’re helping them to set up environmental hubs in their villages.

Sue: And I imagine that having success stories, having real life, examples of the impact helps to get grants and to, to show that what your charity is doing is making a difference. What stories are sticking in your mind as being really impactful?

Carrie: One that springs to mind is actually in about 2016. A local lady interviewed me for a local magazine and she’s a mum and subsequently my son’s gone to her son’s school. And I didn’t know, until about three years later. That interview she did for that article, inspired her to go away and think, well, she’s a mum, did something and made a difference. And so she went away and she went to her church and she said she wanted to set up a green management team. They’ve changed the church to renewable energy. They’ve trained lots and lots of things within their family of four churches. And yeah, now we’re working with those churches, but that’s about three years later. So that’s an example of the ripple effect, really of inspiring people.

Sue: It’s wonderful to hear that, any other memorable stories stick in your mind.

Carrie: So another amazing example of the ripple effect is when we launched the Horsham Repair café at the first one, we only had textile repairers and we thought, right. Okay. We, we will recruit others. And then we’ll progress. And actually at the first repair cafe, we had about three electricians through the door, retired electricians. We love what you’re doing, but with you, we’ll be with you every time the repair cafe pops up and they have been, so not only did we instantly recruit a team of volunteers repairers, but we also had Scouts cycle from other towns that we’d worked very closely with transition town, Worthing and transition Chichester for example, and then they set up repair cafes and we helped them. So since 2017, we’ve probably set up about 10 repair cafes, maybe 12. I don’t know. I lost track really. That’s a really a real success story. And subsequently we’ve set up a climate cafe and again, we helped about three of those form in other areas. So it’s the ripple effect.

Sue: And what do you see as the vision for the charity? If you were looking five years ahead from now, what, what do you envisage success to be.

Carrie: We’re currently writing a three-year strategy for the charity, which for a small environmental charity is quite an unusual thing. Not unusual for a business, of course. But we want to apply for core funding so that we can actually multiply our effect. So we are hoping to actually employ someone else at the moment. I’m the only employed member of staff. So we’ve got ambitions to set up an open eco home trial in Horsham, which will become very, very feasible. It’s where people open up their homes. We advertise that there features in their homes that are particularly eco and the members of the public can go along and visit and learn how those people, those families may change. No big sales pitch. But that makes, all of the solutions that are out there so much more transparent. We’re very keen on setting up a community energy Horsham, which is another big project, but that will make a real difference to create renewable energy. As a community project.

Sue: It strikes me as you’re speaking that your skills, perhaps from the video. Business that you were running around, storytelling and communication are really also important in what you’re doing now and that their message that I’m getting from how you’re describing green living is about inspiration. It’s about showing people what’s possible and then encouraging and inspiring them to want to do it as opposed to shaming them into feeling guilty because they’re not doing something. Am I picking that up correctly?

Carrie: You are very good. You are picking up correctly? The fact that, and it’s always what I’ve said. We have to inspire people into change and not frighten them into change. Prior to the COVID pandemic. I did go out and do talks on climate change and in some circles in particular, it was really important to share the quite shocking effects of climate change. Last year, we decided we really needed to find an even more inspiring way to engage people in the climate ecological and extinction crisis. And so we dreamt up this, the inspiration eco station. That was my crazy idea, right. Presented to the trustees. I said, I don’t, you’re going to think I’m a nutter, but I want to use a milk float anyway. Brilliant. And so do the funders. So that’s good. And we also dreamt up the bright new future roadshow, which is other environmental educators who are so inspiring, inspire me all the time. And we go out together when we’re a pop up environmental festival with a six ton lorry powered with recycled cooking oil. That’s painted with the evolution of planet earth, a mobile Woodland theater. I mean, it’s incredible. And this nutty milk float, we use environmental music. To help to show people that actually literally show them what a bright new future can look like, because unless they can visualize it, they’re not going to be able to travel the journey to get there. On the back of the float, there’s a beautiful landscape that one of our volunteers painted and he is a future landscape. I mean, it shouldn’t be future should be what we’ve got now, but it is a sustainable landscape. So, it’s literally about showing them the solutions.

Sue: I can’t help but get a sense of that energy and passion you have Carrie   for this way of living that’s that you’re trying to expose within others as well. You mentioned the word inspiration there and about those people that you’re collaborating with. I’m wondering who inspires you or what inspires you to keep.

Carrie: Well, the volunteers, I call them the green cavalry. Or sometimes the green army depends on who I’m speaking to, whether it’s the stick or the carrot approach, but they inspire me because they all come to events or to the repair cafe, the Sussex green hub you know, willingly to share their passion and their ideas. So, I mean, at the end of the Sussex green hub, where the repair coffee pops up, we all go home. Just buzzing and re-energized, I’ve tired, tired, but re-energized, and we feel part of a magical, unique community that needs to pop up and it is popping up in villages all around us. It’s so exciting. And also one of our bright new future roadshow partners, Nicola Peels, that she’s one of the people that inspired me back in 2012. She’s an incredible environmentalist and comes out in my roadshow. Al Gore’s was one of the films that I watched in 2011, and that inspired me into action. And I subsequently in 2016, trained with him as part of the climate reality leadership Corps. I went to Manila to train with him and climate change scientists. So I am part of a network of 35,000 to climate reality leaders around the world at about 750 of us in the UK. So when I need help or inspiration we worked.

Sue: Sounds like it has made it an amazing journey from, as you described it, being just a mum to having such a major influence and positive impact on the world effectively.

Carrie: Yeah. W we can all, we can all do it. Can’t we, I was a mom on a mission with marketing and communications background, but I started it with most using my pension, my money. But it didn’t need to take a lot of my that’s the whole point about Sussex Green living. So it’s finding people that inspire, inspire you finding solutions and then sharing those solutions.

One of the networks that I haven’t even mentioned is Nicola Peel and I were co-founders of the Southeast climate Alliance which is an Alliance of environmental groups across Kent, east Sussex, west Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. And they are people like. In the Southeast are trying really hard to make changes within their community. so again, they are our inspiration. We work together to push for change, mainly targeted at the councils.

Sue: so if there was a listener, listening to what you’re saying, Carrie and they’re getting inspired and thinking there’s me in my small town or village somewhere in the world, how would you recommend that they get stopped?

Carrie: Find your local group. And join them, be part of it. And, and work with them, share the skills that you’ve got with them and work together. And. Read watch documentaries. We’ve got a web page, our favorite documentaries and books. But learn and, share that knowledge and take small steps and keep changing and keep going forward and then share what you’ve done with others.

Sue: You make it sound so simple, and I hope that your message today has inspiring her or listener to not only think, but to act as well from, from what you’ve said, Carrie, if you were going back to your childhood self, I’m reflecting now on where you’ve got to in life and the impact that you’ve had. What advice you would have given to your 16-year-old self?

Carrie: I went to college and I did environmental studies, but only for a year to get an extra level, I would have started, I would have stayed. Actually, if I could go back, I would have started the environment because I am passionate about it. As you can hear also. I all throughout my life, I have flown, I have traveled to beautiful places. I am very lucky. Yeah, if I had the knowledge, the environmental knowledge, then I wouldn’t have done that. I loved exploring the world and beautiful places. I love to go. I only went probably once on safari, but I adored it. It was magical. It was amazing. And that’s quite hard. That’s probably the hardest thing. I’ve got a 13-year-old son and I’d love him to see some of the places I’ve seen, but I know that I did damage. I know, if I’d gone to university to study the environment when I was 16, 17, 18, I wouldn’t have done all those things.

Sue: Yeah, I think I’m hearing you talk about the, the knowledge of travel gives you an appreciation of the global outlook, the differences in the world. And yes, there’s a consequence to that travel too. So, it gives us both the upside down the downside.

Carrie: Absolutely right. Yeah.

Sue: So people want to find out more about you and Sussex Green living and all these amazing, inspiring things you’ve been talking about today. Carrie how might they do that?

Carrie: Well, if they go to Sussex green living.co.uk, there’s a pop-up window. They can sign up to our newsletter. We send out a newsletter once a month. We include small green steps. Big green steps and use about where we’re going and what we’re doing and find your local environmental group. You can go on repair, cafo.org, which is an international site. You put your post code in, you can find your nearest repair cafe but us, Yeah. we’re in the social media as well. So Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, you can find it.

Sue: fantastic. Well, we’ll put all the links on the podcast show notes so people can follow up if they want to. It’s been lovely to talk to you today, Carrie  I love your energy and commitment for the mission that you’re on. I wish you well, as you move from.

Carrie: Thanks very much. Thanks for inviting us today. Sue.

Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra (he/him)

Producer: Sue Stockdale (she/her)